Belgian cablecos plan wireless strategies
Fully mindful of their history of over-eagerness for 3G, which led to massive spectrum bills and huge write downs, the European cellcos are more cautious about LTE, and most will not deploy on any major scale until 2013 or later.
However, the trials are mounting up, and regulators are responding by bringing spectrum to market, with Germany and Belgium next to move.
The Belgian government will hold an auction for a fourth 3G license and five 2.6GHz blocks in September, according to local newspaper De Standaard. The UMTS license failed to find a buyer in a 2001 sale. It can be sold as a single 15MHz block, for at least €80 million, or in 5MHz chunks with a reserve price of €40 million each.
In 2001, the current operators, Belgacom, Mobistar and KPN, paid €150 million for their licenses. They may, like their French counterparts, be agitating for a refund, should new entrants gain 3G spectrum at significantly lower prices.
Among the interested parties are cablecos Telenet and Voo, again mirroring the French pattern, where a recently awarded fourth 3G license went to broadband player Iliad/Free.
Cable operators are not just looking for 3G footholds, to add wireless services and a 'quad play' to their current offerings, but are interested in LTE too.
This could provide them with in-fill for black spots in their cable coverage as well as wireless and metrozone options - a pattern already seen in the US with three cable firms' investment in Wimax-based Clearwire, Cox' plans for 3G and 4G build-out, and Cablevision's Wi-Fi services.
In Belgium, Telenet has actually pre-empted the cellcos in kicking off the country's first LTE trial, in the city of Mechelen. CEO Duco Sickinghe said in a statement: “If you're a serious company, like us, you need to go for LTE. We really believe that if LTE works, it is the best way forward.”
Telenet currently offers mobile services via an MVNO with Mobistar, but is still assessing the LTE technology and also the value it would put on the 2.6GHz spectrum.
This auction will take place immediately after the 3G sale, and will offer five 2 x 15MHz licenses for LTE, with an expected minimum price of €15 million each. There will also be an auction for a 50MHz block of unpaired spectrum, with an expected reserve of €25 million, which could be acquired by a Wimax carrier.
Over in Germany, regulator Bundesnetzagentur has ruled that the four existing mobile carriers - Deutsche Telekom, Vodafone, KPN's E-Plus, and Telefonica O2 - will all bid in upcoming auctions, but there will be no new entrant bidders.
The most important licenses to be sold this year will be in 800MHz digital dividend spectrum, where several German firms have already tested LTE, particularly for rural broadband coverage.
The auction will start on April 12 and will cover four bands that are being vacated by broadcasters or the military.
Bundesnetzagentur said one interested new entrant had expressed initial interest but has since withdrawn from the process, while another failed to fulfil the conditions to participate in the auction.